Columnists > Master-servant still provides the framework for employer-employee relations

15 September 2016 | by Clifford Longley

Master-servant still provides the framework for employer-employee relations


Might two current industrial disputes, one involving junior doctors in the NHS and the other train drivers on Southern Railway, be related to the fictional prewar reminiscences of a butler in a large country house? The Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro, could be a metaphor pointing to what is still wrong with contemporary Britain. It suggests we haven’t really abolished the old class system. We’ve merely transferred it to the way we conduct our industrial relations.

The novel was the basis for a film starring Emma Thompson and Anthony Hopkins, popular because of public fascination with the Upstairs-Downstairs world of domestic service alongside aristocratic family intrigue. Yet the film’s focus, the subtle interplay of two culturally constricted personalities, the butler and the housekeeper, was not identical to the novel’s.

Throughout the book the butler, James Stevens, reflects on his duties both as the ultimate servant in a grand mansion, Darlington Hall, and as the manager of all the other servants there, on behalf of his master, Lord Darlington.


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